Tomorrow I will debut the first feature post in “Discussions for Writers.” Discussions will focus on writing tips, especially those learned the hard way. The purpose is to assist those new and/or growing in the writer’s craft to better grasp concepts that make the Gatekeepers open up, allowing the writer access to a readership.
In formulating the concept for Discussions for Writers, I’ve been plagued with concern about how I can best present evidence to demonstrate my points. It’s fairly easy to come up with examples of good writing. All we have to do is read our favorite writers. But the truth is, human beings learn by doing, not by exposure to how someone else works successfully. I used to tell my college students that they would never learn to write compositions by reading the text book; they’d learn by writing and rewriting and re-rewriting the same composition. The same is true in fiction.
I sensed, therefore, that I need to build these discussions around the idea that we learn by doing. Yet I have no interest in formulating exercises. I know I wouldn’t do them so I assume you won’t either.
When I asked myself when I felt I really began to understand the craft, I realized it coincided with the era when I was reading the then-new Harry Potter series to my young children. As I read, I had a sense that she was occasionally selling herself short in the tension department, so I picked up a pencil and began drawing lines to indicate how she might have re-layered, for instance, her dialogue. I sensed that the changed lines were beneficial and began trying them out on my kids, who nearly always agreed with the rewrite. I learned immense amounts because I had to actually do the work of rethinking what was on the page. I’d like to take this approach here. In other words, in Discussions for Writers, I will demonstrate a problem, suggest the type of cures, but not necessarily provide the fix. That’d be something for you to think about. In addition, I hope that what I point out will spark you to notice similar problems in the work of publishing writers and be able to generate fixes that will translate into a better awareness of your own work.
Obviously, I can’t follow this format by using flawless writing. I need to use the writing that limps a little. But what writing is that? Certainly I could use my own work or work-in-progress, but I won’t for a couple reasons: a) no writer has complete clarity about his or her own work, b) I have no desire to point out what’s wrong with something I’ve written. Let others do that.
But likewise, I don’t want to cull anything from slush piles I’m exposed to, or even rougher drafts of materials I edit for other writers. Something tells me doing so would make writers less willing to work with me.
Then it occurred to me. One of the things I have heard writers complain about over and over is that established writers (the A list) can get away with things that writers waiting for that break cannot. So I’m going to seek out glitches in some best-sellers or award winning fiction. These are authors who should be able to “take it,” who’ve been through their own rejection years, who’ve faced stubborn editors who insisted one thing or another be changed, who’ve endured the ranting of critics. I’m sure, then, they can handle me pulling out a paragraph or two and asking, “How could this be made better?” Therefore, I will only pull examples from published work, written by writers I, and to certain extent, the markets, respect. My first Discussion for Writers will be a discussion of an excerpt or two from David Farland‘s In the Company of Angels, which I recently reviewed and will be titled “Show v. Tell on the Molecular Level.” Look for it Monday or, worse case, Tuesday of this week.
Ultimately, I’d like to have discussions on a bi-weekly rotation. The ideal would be to have a book review up one week and follow it the next week with a Discussions for Writers related to some aspect of the book. But I know I won’t be able to keep up with bi-weekly reviews, so I don’t dare make promises. Check back regularly for new Discussions for Writers.